When people gather whether it is to help: a school district that wants to figure out how best to use their technology resources, a state or region wanting to improve the environmental quality of its ground water, or nonprofit wanting to effectively reduce bullying among young people across the nation – the people coming together to make a difference related to any topic will benefit from getting very good at listening to each other.
Costa and Kallick in Activating & Engaging Habits of Mind (2000) write:”We spend 55 percent of our lives listening”. They go on to explain that, “Adults often say they are listening when actually they are rehearsing in their heads what they will say when it is their turn to speak”. (p76)
If there is any truth to Costa’s and Kallick’s assertion (and I think there is) then adults are often preoccupied ‘rehearsing’ what they are going to say next. So, sadly – for adults engaged in talking together, they are more likely to be, at best, polite ‘turn takers’ rather than ‘deep listeners’. Being good at ‘turn taking’ can’t be the goal of connecting with others. And connecting with others is essential as we work our way through the many challenges we face in our personal as well as our civic lives.
Stephen R. Covey’s in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People challenges us to strive to “first seek to understand” as we listen. He makes the point that effective communication is a two way street. Yet, many people seek first to be understood instead of to understand. So, when a listener is coming from a ‘wanting to be understood’ frame, that listener is not truly listening well. That listener is more likely listening with the intent to reply.
Sometimes, I must admit, I am that listener that ‘wants to be understood’, that is ‘rehearsing’ and not listening, and that, at best, is trying to politely wait my ‘turn’ to talk. This is not the way I want to “show up”.
I want to be able to work effectively with others. I believe in the power of interdependent thinking. I know that the diversity of ideas, points of view and dreams are positive forces in service to the common good. I recognize that at times it takes courage to reach out to others and sincerely work together. And, I know I am a ‘work in progress’ and know I want to be able to work more and more effectively with others.
I believe that when people work together much can be accomplished. And I believe that working together with others requires effective, sincere listening: The kind of listening that leads towards understanding. Understanding can potentially lead to collaboration, cooperation, idea generation and/or interdependence.
So, if you want to make a difference with others: listening is better than turn taking.